Dungeons and Dragons is something near and dear to my heart. It’s a fun way to relax and stay creative, and a great social activity as well. I’ve run 7 campaigns and have made many more that sit on the shelves of my Google Drive gathering dust. However, I can never say that the majority of them were good. I can say that about maybe 2 of them, and that still feels like a stretch. I’ve made countless mistakes both as a Dungeon Master and a player, but each has only helped in the long run.
Luckily, Dungeons and Dragons is an activity where failure won’t impact your life that much. It’s a relatively safe environment. The absolute worst possibility is damaging relationships between you and your players. Now that sounds bad, but other activities have much worse outcomes. Nuclear engineering, for example.
At its best, D&D can strengthen old relationships or even create new ones. It can inspire people to do what they’ve held off. It fosters a space for creativity and offers an escape from the stresses of modern life. In D&D, people can do anything, be anyone, and have fun with friends. Encouraging all of this is just one part of why DMing is a difficult job, but I believe it’s the most essential.
A bit of advice to get started; Growth as a DM has to come from you. It’s not the job of the players to critique your campaign. It’s impossible for them to know the minutia of every decision you make. There are some players who will be quite vocal about the campaign, but only take advice if it’s constructive. Some players honestly just want the DM squirm and ruin it for others. Stop playing with those people. Otherwise, try to get to the bottom of what is upsetting the player and see to it.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of making a better experience for everyone. Your job is to foster that creative space and encourage interaction. The player’s job is to be a character in the space you have created. If roles get mixed up and players tell you how the world should work, or if you tell players how to interact, then things get messy.
Towards becoming better Dungeon Masters, I’ve jotted down a few things that a decent one should avoid doing at all costs. Following these tips is a sure-fire way to lose friendships and guarantee that no one picks you to DM their party.
1.Design a campaign that fits none of the personalities of your players/characters. You have to be certain that the campaign is designed around what you would want to see, not what the players would like. Let’s say you’re DMing a couple who love puzzle-solving and intense combat. Naturally, you would design the campaign to focus on politics and exploration. It only makes sense.
2. Tell your players who they should be and what characters they should make. If you let them make their own characters and be who they want to be, they might ruin everything by having different opinions than yours.
3. Plan sessions for week days without consulting the players. Finals week is a particularly good time for D&D sessions.
4. Be sure that the quest is shoved down the throats of the players, making sure that they feel no thrill of exploration or wonder. They’ve gotta get to the end fast, so make sure that they don’t waste any time looking around and investigating what interests them. Leave no room for flexibility or spontaneity.
5. Monologue, monologue, monologue. Make sure that the NPC’s make all the important decisions in the campaign so that things move along smoothly
6. Ask your players for feedback on the campaign (that you ignore) during every break and after every session. That is, if you ever give the players breaks.
7. End the campaign on a low note, preferably with the death of a well-developed NPC that you made. Alternatively, use a deus ex machina. Being an essential tool of satisfying plot endings, it’s imperative that you use it.
8. Disregard my advice.
No, seriously. Do some crazy shit. Culture and creativity thrives on rules being broken. It’s what humans are great at.
If you can keep a campaign engaging while having long monologues, dramatically different characters than what your players are used to, or with feedback sessions for your campaign, all power to you! I was in one campaign where the DM took us to play out in a forest and on a rotting picnic table. It was freezing outside and our chairs sank 2 feet into the ground, but it was a great idea that can be expanded upon.
The most important thing in D&D is that you have fun. That is the only prerequisite. It’s something that friends come together to play around with and have a blast, and if you can do that while pulling some unconventional stops and twisting some rules, please do so. Just be ready to take the criticism that may come your way.
Now, go have fun!